More on Technology
2 months ago
Small Pieces of Code That Revolutionized the World
Few sentences can have global significance.
Ethan Zuckerman invented the pop-up commercial in 1997.
He was working for Tripod.com, an online service that let people make little web pages for free. Tripod offered advertising to make money. Advertisers didn't enjoy seeing their advertising next to filthy content, like a user's anal sex website.
Zuckerman's boss wanted a solution. Wasn't there a way to move the ads away from user-generated content?
When you visited a Tripod page, a pop-up ad page appeared. So, the ad isn't officially tied to any user page. It'd float onscreen.
window.open('http://tripod.com/navbar.html' "width=200, height=400, toolbar=no, scrollbars=no, resizable=no, target=_top");
Simple yet harmful! Soon, commercial websites mimicked Zuckerman's concept, infesting the Internet with pop-up advertising. In the early 2000s, a coder for a download site told me that most of their revenue came from porn pop-up ads.
Pop-up advertising are everywhere. You despise them. Hopefully, your browser blocks them.
Zuckerman wrote a single line of code that made the world worse.
I read Zuckerman's story in How 26 Lines of Code Changed the World. Torie Bosch compiled a humorous anthology of short writings about code that tipped the world.
Most of these samples are quite short. Pop-cultural preconceptions about coding say that important code is vast and expansive. Hollywood depicts programmers as blurs spouting out Niagaras of code. Google's success was formerly attributed to its 2 billion lines of code.
It's usually not true. Google's original breakthrough, the piece of code that propelled Google above its search-engine counterparts, was its PageRank algorithm, which determined a web page's value based on how many other pages connected to it and the quality of those connecting pages. People have written their own Python versions; it's only a few dozen lines.
Google's operations, like any large tech company's, comprise thousands of procedures. So their code base grows. The most impactful code can be brief.
The examples are fascinating and wide-ranging, so read the whole book (or give it to nerds as a present). Charlton McIlwain wrote a chapter on the police beat algorithm developed in the late 1960s to anticipate crime hotspots so law enforcement could dispatch more officers there. It created a racial feedback loop. Since poor Black neighborhoods were already overpoliced compared to white ones, the algorithm directed more policing there, resulting in more arrests, which convinced it to send more police; rinse and repeat.
Kelly Chudler's You Are Not Expected To Understand This depicts the police-beat algorithm.
Even shorter code changed the world: the tracking pixel.
Lily Hay Newman's chapter on monitoring pixels says you probably interact with this code every day. It's a snippet of HTML that embeds a single tiny pixel in an email. Getting an email with a tracking code spies on me. As follows: My browser requests the single-pixel image as soon as I open the mail. My email sender checks to see if Clives browser has requested that pixel. My email sender can tell when I open it.
Adding a tracking pixel to an email is easy:
<img src="URL LINKING TO THE PIXEL ONLINE" width="0" height="0">
An older example: Ellen R. Stofan and Nick Partridge wrote a chapter on Apollo 11's lunar module bailout code. This bailout code operated on the lunar module's tiny on-board computer and was designed to prioritize: If the computer grew overloaded, it would discard all but the most vital work.
When the lunar module approached the moon, the computer became overloaded. The bailout code shut down anything non-essential to landing the module. It shut down certain lunar module display systems, scaring the astronauts. Module landed safely.
POODOO INHINT CA Q TS ALMCADR TC BANKCALL CADR VAC5STOR # STORE ERASABLES FOR DEBUGGING PURPOSES. INDEX ALMCADR CAF 0 ABORT2 TC BORTENT OCT77770 OCT 77770 # DONT MOVE CA V37FLBIT # IS AVERAGE G ON MASK FLAGWRD7 CCS A TC WHIMPER -1 # YES. DONT DO POODOO. DO BAILOUT. TC DOWNFLAG ADRES STATEFLG TC DOWNFLAG ADRES REINTFLG TC DOWNFLAG ADRES NODOFLAG TC BANKCALL CADR MR.KLEAN TC WHIMPER
This fun book is worth reading.
I'm a contributor to the New York Times Magazine, Wired, and Mother Jones. I've also written Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World and Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds. Twitter and Instagram: @pomeranian99; Mastodon: @firstname.lastname@example.org.
7 months ago
Reasons Why AI-Generated Images Remind Me of Nightmares
AI images are like funhouse mirrors.
Google's AI Blog introduced the puppy-slug in the summer of 2015.
Puppy-slug isn't a single image or character. "Puppy-slug" refers to Google's DeepDream's unsettling psychedelia. This tool uses convolutional neural networks to train models to recognize dataset entities. If researchers feed the model millions of dog pictures, the network will learn to recognize a dog.
DeepDream used neural networks to analyze and classify image data as well as generate its own images. DeepDream's early examples were created by training a convolutional network on dog images and asking it to add "dog-ness" to other images. The models analyzed images to find dog-like pixels and modified surrounding pixels to highlight them.
Puppy-slugs and other DeepDream images are ugly. Even when they don't trigger my trypophobia, they give me vertigo when my mind tries to reconcile familiar features and forms in unnatural, physically impossible arrangements. I feel like I've been poisoned by a forbidden mushroom or a noxious toad. I'm a Lovecraft character going mad from extradimensional exposure. They're gross!
Is this really how AIs see the world? This is possibly an even more unsettling topic that DeepDream raises than the blatant abjection of the images.
When these photographs originally circulated online, many friends were startled and scandalized. People imagined a computer's imagination would be literal, accurate, and boring. We didn't expect vivid hallucinations and organic-looking formations.
DeepDream's images didn't really show the machines' imaginations, at least not in the way that scared some people. DeepDream displays data visualizations. DeepDream reveals the "black box" of convolutional network training.
Some of these images look scary because the models don't "know" anything, at least not in the way we do.
These images are the result of advanced algorithms and calculators that compare pixel values. They can spot and reproduce trends from training data, but can't interpret it. If so, they'd know dogs have two eyes and one face per head. If machines can think creatively, they're keeping it quiet.
You could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, given OpenAI's Dall-impressive E's results. From a technological perspective, it's incredible.
Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Dall-magic E's requires a lot of math, computer science, processing power, and research. OpenAI did a great job, and we should applaud them.
Dall-E and similar tools match words and phrases to image data to train generative models. Matching text to images requires sorting and defining the images. Untold millions of low-wage data entry workers, content creators optimizing images for SEO, and anyone who has used a Captcha to access a website make these decisions. These people could live and die without receiving credit for their work, even though the project wouldn't exist without them.
This technique produces images that are less like paintings and more like mirrors that reflect our own beliefs and ideals back at us, albeit via a very complex prism. Due to the limitations and biases that these models portray, we must exercise caution when viewing these images.
The issue was succinctly articulated by artist Mimi Onuoha in her piece "On Algorithmic Violence":
As we continue to see the rise of algorithms being used for civic, social, and cultural decision-making, it becomes that much more important that we name the reality that we are seeing. Not because it is exceptional, but because it is ubiquitous. Not because it creates new inequities, but because it has the power to cloak and amplify existing ones. Not because it is on the horizon, but because it is already here.
Ben "The Hosk" Hosking
5 months ago
The Yellow Cat Test Is Typically Failed by Software Developers.
Believe what you see, what people say
It’s sad that we never get trained to leave assumptions behind. - Sebastian Thrun
Many problems in software development are not because of code but because developers create the wrong software. This isn't rare because software is emergent and most individuals only realize what they want after it's built.
Inquisitive developers who pass the yellow cat test can improve the process.
Carpenters measure twice and cut the wood once. Developers are rarely so careful.
The Yellow Cat Test
Game of Thrones made dragons cool again, so I am reading The Game of Thrones book.
The yellow cat exam is from Syrio Forel, Arya Stark's fencing instructor.
Syrio tells Arya he'll strike left when fencing. He hits her after she dodges left. Arya says “you lied”. Syrio says his words lied, but his eyes and arm told the truth.
Arya learns how Syrio became Bravos' first sword.
“On the day I am speaking of, the first sword was newly dead, and the Sealord sent for me. Many bravos had come to him, and as many had been sent away, none could say why. When I came into his presence, he was seated, and in his lap was a fat yellow cat. He told me that one of his captains had brought the beast to him, from an island beyond the sunrise. ‘Have you ever seen her like?’ he asked of me.
“And to him I said, ‘Each night in the alleys of Braavos I see a thousand like him,’ and the Sealord laughed, and that day I was named the first sword.”
Arya screwed up her face. “I don’t understand.”
Syrio clicked his teeth together. “The cat was an ordinary cat, no more. The others expected a fabulous beast, so that is what they saw. How large it was, they said. It was no larger than any other cat, only fat from indolence, for the Sealord fed it from his own table. What curious small ears, they said. Its ears had been chewed away in kitten fights. And it was plainly a tomcat, yet the Sealord said ‘her,’ and that is what the others saw. Are you hearing?” Reddit discussion.
Development teams should not believe what they are told.
We created an appointment booking system. We thought it was an appointment-booking system. Later, we realized the software's purpose was to book the right people for appointments and discourage the unneeded ones.
The first 3 months of the project had half-correct requirements and software understanding.
Open your eyes
“Open your eyes is all that is needed. The heart lies and the head plays tricks with us, but the eyes see true. Look with your eyes, hear with your ears. Taste with your mouth. Smell with your nose. Feel with your skin. Then comes the thinking afterwards, and in that way, knowing the truth” Syrio Ferel
We must see what exists, not what individuals tell the development team or how developers think the software should work. Initial criteria cover 50/70% and change.
Developers build assumptions problems by assuming how software should work. Developers must quickly explain assumptions.
When a development team's assumptions are inaccurate, they must alter the code, DevOps, documentation, and tests.
It’s always faster and easier to fix requirements before code is written.
First-draft requirements can be based on old software. Development teams must grasp corporate goals and consider needs from many angles.
Testers help rethink requirements. They look at how software requirements shouldn't operate.
Technical features and benefits might misdirect software projects.
The initiatives that focused on technological possibilities developed hard-to-use software that needed extensive rewriting following user testing.
High-level criteria are different from detailed ones.
The interpretation of words determines their meaning.
Presentations are lofty, upbeat, and prejudiced.
People's perceptions may be unclear, incorrect, or just based on one perspective (half the story)
Developers can be misled by requirements, circumstances, people, plans, diagrams, designs, documentation, and many other things.
Developers receive misinformation, misunderstandings, and wrong assumptions. The development team must avoid building software with erroneous specifications.
Once code and software are written, the development team changes and fixes them.
Developers create software with incomplete information, they need to fill in the blanks to create the complete picture.
Yellow cats are often inaccurate when communicating requirements.
Before writing code, clarify requirements, assumptions, etc.
Everyone will pressure the development team to generate code rapidly, but this will slow down development.
Code changes are harder than requirements.
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6 months ago
Raising the Bar on Your 1:1s
Managers spend much time in 1:1s. Most team members meet with supervisors regularly. 1:1s can help create relationships and tackle tough topics. Few appreciate the 1:1 format's potential. Most of the time, that potential is spent on small talk, surface-level updates, and ranting (Ugh, the marketing team isn’t stepping up the way I want them to).
What if you used that time to have deeper conversations and important insights? What if change was easy?
This post introduces a new 1:1 format to help you dive deeper, faster, and develop genuine relationships without losing impact.
A 1:1 is a chat, you would assume. Why use structure to talk to a coworker? Go! I know how to talk to people. I can write. I've always written. Also, This article was edited by Zoe.
Before you discard something, ask yourself if there's a good reason not to try anything new. Is the 1:1 only a talk, or do you want extra benefits? Try the steps below to discover more.
I. Reflection (5 minutes)
Context-free, broad comments waste time and are useless. Instead, give team members 5 minutes to write these 3 prompts.
What is decent but could be improved?
What is broken or missing?
Why these? They encourage people to be honest about all their experiences. Answering these questions helps people realize something isn't working. These prompts let people consider what's working.
Why take notes? Because you get more in less time. Will you feel awkward sitting quietly while your coworker writes? Probably. Persevere. Multi-task. Take a break from your afternoon meeting marathon. Any awkwardness will pay off.
What happens? After a few minutes of light conversation, create a template like the one given here and have team members fill in their replies. You can pre-share the template (with the caveat that this isn’t meant to take much prep time). Do this with your coworker: Answer the prompts. Everyone can benefit from pondering and obtaining guidance.
This step's output.
Part II: Talk (10-20 minutes)
Most individuals can explain what they see but not what's behind an answer. You don't like a meeting. Why not? Marketing partnership is difficult. What makes working with them difficult? I don't recommend slandering coworkers. Consider how your meetings, decisions, and priorities make work harder. The excellent stuff too. You want to know what's humming so you can reproduce the magic.
First, recognize some facts.
Real power dynamics exist. To encourage individuals to be honest, you must provide a safe environment and extend clear invites. Even then, it may take a few 1:1s for someone to feel secure enough to go there in person. It is part of your responsibility to admit that it is normal.
Curiosity and self-disclosure are crucial. Most leaders have received training to present themselves as the authorities. However, you will both benefit more from the dialogue if you can be open and honest about your personal experience, ask questions out of real curiosity, and acknowledge the pertinent sacrifices you're making as a leader.
Honesty without bias is difficult and important. Due to concern for the feelings of others, people frequently hold back. Or if they do point anything out, they do so in a critical manner. The key is to be open and unapologetic about what you observe while not presuming that your viewpoint is correct and that of the other person is incorrect.
Let's go into some prompts (based on genuine conversations):
“What do you notice across your answers?”
“What about the way you/we/they do X, Y, or Z is working well?”
“ Will you say more about item X in ‘What’s not working?’”
“I’m surprised there isn’t anything about Z. Why is that?”
“All of us tend to play some role in maintaining certain patterns. How might you/we be playing a role in this pattern persisting?”
“How might the way we meet, make decisions, or collaborate play a role in what’s currently happening?”
Consider the preceding example. What about the Monday meeting isn't working? Why? or What about the way we work with marketing makes collaboration harder? Remember to share your honest observations!
Third section: observe patterns (10-15 minutes)
Leaders desire to empower their people but don't know how. We also have many preconceptions about what empowerment means to us and how it works. The next phase in this 1:1 format will assist you and your team member comprehend team power and empowerment. This understanding can help you support and shift your team member's behavior, especially where you disagree.
How to? After discussing the stated responses, ask each team member what they can control, influence, and not control. Mark their replies. You can do the same, adding colors where you disagree.
This step's output.
Next, consider the color constellation. Discuss these questions:
Is one color much more prevalent than the other? Why, if so?
Are the colors for the "what's working," "what's fine," and "what's not working" categories clearly distinct? Why, if so?
Do you have any disagreements? If yes, specifically where does your viewpoint differ? What activities do you object to? (Remember, there is no right or wrong in this. Give explicit details and ask questions with curiosity.)
Example: Based on the colors, you can ask, Is the marketing meeting's quality beyond your control? Were our marketing partners consulted? Are there any parts of team decisions we can control? We can't control people, but have we explored another decision-making method? How can we collaborate and generate governance-related information to reduce work, even if the requirement for prep can't be eliminated?
Consider the top one or two topics for this conversation. No 1:1 can cover everything, and that's OK. Focus on the present.
Part IV: Determine the next step (5 minutes)
Last, examine what this conversation means for you and your team member. It's easy to think we know the next moves when we don't.
Like what? You and your teammate answer these questions.
What does this signify moving ahead for me? What can I do to change this? Make requests, for instance, and see how people respond before thinking they won't be responsive.
What demands do I have on other people or my partners? What should I do first? E.g. Make a suggestion to marketing that we hold a monthly retrospective so we can address problems and exchange input more frequently. Include it on the meeting's agenda for next Monday.
Close the 1:1 by sharing what you noticed about the chat. Observations? Learn anything?
Yourself, you, and the 1:1
As a leader, you either reinforce or disrupt habits. Try this template if you desire greater ownership, empowerment, or creativity. Consider how you affect surrounding dynamics. How can you expect others to try something new in high-stakes scenarios, like meetings with cross-functional partners or senior stakeholders, if you won't? How can you expect deep thought and relationship if you don't encourage it in 1:1s? What pattern could this new format disrupt or reinforce?
Fight reluctance. First attempts won't be ideal, and that's OK. You'll only learn by trying.
6 months ago
This billionaire created a side business that brings around $90,000 per month.
Dharmesh Shah co-founded HubSpot. WordPlay reached $90,000 per month in revenue without utilizing any of his wealth.
Take Advantage Of An Established Trend
Remember Wordle? Dharmesh was instantly hooked. As was the tech world.
HubSpot's co-founder noted inefficiencies in a recent My First Million episode. He wanted to play daily. Dharmesh, a tinkerer and software engineer, decided to design a word game.
He's a billionaire. How could he?
Wordle had limitations in his opinion;
Dharmesh is fundamentally a developer. He desired to start something new and increase his programming knowledge;
This project may serve as an excellent illustration for his son, who had begun learning about software development.
Better It Up
Building a new Wordle wasn't successful.
WordPlay lets you play with friends and family. You could challenge them and compare the results. It is a built-in growth tool.
the capacity to follow sophisticated statistics after creating an account;
continuous feedback on your performance;
Outstanding domain name (wordplay.com).
WordPlay has 9.5 million visitors and 45 million games played since February.
HubSpot co-founder credits tremendous growth to flywheel marketing, pushing the game through his own following.
Choosing an exploding specialty and making sharing easy also helped.
Shah enabled Google Ads on the website to test earning potential. Monthly revenue was $90,000.
That's just Google Ads. If monetization was the goal, a specialized ad network like Ezoic could double or triple the amount.
Wordle was a great buy for The New York Times at $1 million.
3 months ago
Startups are difficult. Streamlining the procedure for creating the following unicorn.
New ventures are exciting. It's fun to imagine yourself rich, successful, and famous (if that's your thing). How you'll help others and make your family proud. This excitement can pull you forward for years, even when you intuitively realize that the path you're on may not lead to your desired success.
Know when to change course. Switching course can mean pivoting or changing direction.
In this not-so-short blog, I'll describe the journey of building your dream. And how the journey might look when you think you're building your dream, but fall short of that vision. Both can feel similar in the beginning, but there are subtle differences.
Let’s dive in.
How an exciting journey to a dead end looks and feels.
You want to help many people. You're business-minded, creative, and ambitious. You jump into entrepreneurship. You're excited, free, and in control.
I'll use tech as an example because that's what I know best, but this applies to any entrepreneurial endeavor.
So you start learning the basics of your field, say coding/software development. You read books, take courses, and may even join a bootcamp. You start practicing, and the journey begins. Once you reach a certain level of skill (which can take months, usually 12-24), you gain the confidence to speak with others in the field and find common ground. You might attract a co-founder this way with time. You and this person embark on a journey (Tip: the idea you start with is rarely the idea you end with).
Amateur mistake #1: You spend months building a product before speaking to customers.
Building something pulls you forward blindly. You make mistakes, avoid customers, and build with your co-founder or small team in the dark for months, usually 6-12 months.
You're excited when the product launches. We'll be billionaires! The market won't believe it. This excites you and the team. Launch.
Some people may sign up out of pity, only to never use the product or service again.
You and the team are confused, discouraged and in denial. They don't get what we've built yet. We need to market it better, we need to talk to more investors, someone will understand our vision.
This is a hopeless path, and your denial could last another 6 months. If you're lucky, while talking to consumers and investors (which you should have done from the start), someone who has been there before would pity you and give you an idea to pivot into that can create income.
Suppose you get this idea and pivot your business. Again, you've just pivoted into something limited by what you've already built. It may be a revenue-generating idea, but it's rarely new. Now you're playing catch-up, doing something others are doing but you can do better. (Tip #2: Don't be late.) Your chances of winning are slim, and you'll likely never catch up.
You're finally seeing revenue and feel successful. You can compete, but if you're not a first mover, you won't earn enough over time. You'll get by or work harder than ever to earn what a skilled trade could provide. You didn't go into business to stress out and make $100,000 or $200,000 a year. When you can make the same amount by becoming a great software developer, electrician, etc.
You become stuck. Either your firm continues this way for years until you realize there isn't enough growth to recruit a strong team and remove yourself from day-to-day operations due to competition. Or a catastrophic economic event forces you to admit that what you were building wasn't new and unique and wouldn't get you where you wanted to be.
This realization could take 6-10 years. No kidding.
The good news is, you’ve learned a lot along the way and this information can be used towards your next venture (if you have the energy).
Key Lesson: Don’t build something if you aren’t one of the first in the space building it just for the sake of building something.
Let's discuss what it's like to build something that can make your dream come true.
Case 2: Building something the market loves is difficult but rewarding.
It starts with a problem that hasn't been adequately solved for a long time but is now solvable due to technology. Or a new problem due to a change in how things are done.
Let's examine each example.
Example #1: Mass communication. The problem is now solvable due to some technological breakthrough.
Twitter — One of the first web 2 companies that became successful with the rise of smart mobile computing.
People can share their real-time activities via mobile device with friends, family, and strangers. Web 2 and smartphones made it easy and fun.
Example #2: A new problem has emerged due to some change in the way things are conducted.
Zoom- A web-conferencing company that reached massive success due to the movement towards “work from home”, remote/hybrid work forces.
Online web conferencing allows for face-to-face communication.
These two examples show how to build a unicorn-type company. It's a mix of solving the right problem at the right time, either through a technological breakthrough that opens up new opportunities or by fundamentally changing how people do things.
Let's find these opportunities.
Start by examining problems, such as how the world has changed and how we can help it adapt. It can also be both. Start team brainstorming. Research technologies, current world-trends, use common sense, and make a list. Then, choose the top 3 that you're most excited about and seem most workable based on your skillsets, values, and passion.
Once you have this list, create the simplest MVP you can and test it with customers. The prototype can be as simple as a picture or diagram of user flow and end-user value. No coding required. Market-test. Twitter's version 1 was simple. It was a web form that asked, "What are you doing?" Then publish it from your phone. A global status update, wherever you are. Currently, this company has a $50 billion market cap.
Here's their MVP screenshot.
Small things grow. Tiny. Simplify.
Remember Frequency and Value when brainstorming. Your product is high frequency (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok) or high value (Airbnb for renting travel accommodations), or both (Gmail).
Once you've identified product ideas that meet the above criteria, they're simple, have a high frequency of use, or provide deep value. You then bring it to market in the simplest, most cost-effective way. You can sell a half-working prototype with imagination and sales skills. You need just enough of a prototype to convey your vision to a user or customer.
With this, you can approach real people. This will do one of three things: give you a green light to continue on your vision as is, show you that there is no opportunity and people won't use it, or point you in a direction that is a blend of what you've come up with and what the customer / user really wants, and you update the prototype and go back to the maze. Repeat until you have enough yeses and conviction to build an MVP.